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January 27, 2006 PERMALINK
Hamas, Iran and Renouncing Terrorism
Plus, Hillary's Awful Foreign Policy Address
(posted Jan. 27 2 AM ET)

Following Hamas’ parliamentary victory, Bush said in a press conference, “a political party that articulates the destruction of Israel as part of its platform is a party with which we will not deal.”

Good principle.

You don’t want to give incentives to directly or indirectly engage in terrorism.

You want to make clear that the only path to a good deal is through negotiation, not violence.

But that’s where that principle becomes hollow for Bush and his fellow neocons.

Because they give no one reason to trust them to deliver a good deal through negotiation, since their foreign policy actions have all been based on self-serving unilateralism.

With a different White House – one committed to legitimate democracy, global prosperity and peaceful stability – the Palestinian election, while unsettling, would nevertheless present an opportunity to moderate a destabilizing militant organization.

With the involvement of credible, honest broker in the Middle East, a less desperate Hamas could reasonably determine that they have a better chance of remaining in power by disarming and dealing.

But the Bushies have always viewed Israel-Palestine as an unsolvable nuisance for Israel to contain as it sees fit, while they focus on unilateral moves elsewhere in the region.

Certainly, Bush did not do much to advance the peace process and give the current Fatah President tangible successes (though the Fatah government got $2M from us for election "help").

So, what reason did the Palestinians have to keep Fatah in power? What incentive does Hamas have to follow Bush’s dictates?

The same dynamic is present in Iran (to follow up on yesterday’s Iran post.)

The Bushies cite the Iranian President’s anti-Israel, anti-Semitic remarks and the country’s ties to terror groups as reasons to stay away from direct negotiations (though they acquiesced to European-led negotiations, as a way to stall for time while energy is focused on Iraq.)

But Iran has reason to believe Bush wants to take them out no matter what, especially since Bush rebuffed Iran’s “detailed proposal for comprehensive negotiations to resolve bilateral differences[, which] acknowledged that Iran would have to address concerns about its weapons programs and support for anti-Israeli terrorist organizations.”

So if you want to get Iran to stop pursuing nukes, get someone in the White House who isn’t hell-bent on a unilateralist foreign policy, someone who can make “renounce support for terrorism” a productive condition for talks, and not insincere posturing.

For Democrats to articulate their own foreign policy vision and strategy, on Iran and elsewhere, they need to explain how they would change our entire posture in the region.

How they would reject neoconservative goals of imposed influence on foreign governments via permanent bases throughout the Gulf, and instead, embrace the goals of true self-determination and the eradication of poverty.

By positioning ourselves as a positive force in the region that can be bargained with in good faith, we can say “renounce support for terrorism” to those in power and have it mean something.

Sen. Hillary Clinton sought to craft a Democratic position on Iran last week, but it did not criticize, let alone acknowledge, how Bush’s neoconservatism is impeding progress:

I believe that we lost critical time in dealing with Iran because the White House chose to downplay the threats and to outsource the negotiations.

I don't believe you face threats like Iran or North Korea by outsourcing it to others and standing on the sidelines...

... we must have more support vigorously and publicly expressed by China and Russia, and we must move as quickly as feasible for sanctions in the United Nations.

And we cannot take any option off the table in sending a clear message to the current leadership of Iran — that they will not be permitted to acquire nuclear weapons.

This is idiotic analysis in an dangerous attempt to sound more hawkish than Bush.

Negotiations weren’t outsourced because Bush was downplaying anything. Time wasn’t lost accidentally.

They were outsourced because Bush is not interested in them succeeding. They’re being slow-walked because we’re bogged down in Iraq at the moment.

If a Democratic candidate runs on such talk, even parroting the neocon game plan (going through the motions with the UN first, biding time until we’re ready for military action), then we cannot assume that our foreign policy approach will change for the better.

We can only hope other Dem candidates do not follow Hillary’s path, and instead, call out the failures of neoconservatism as part of laying out a superior foreign policy vision.

January 26, 2006 PERMALINK
6 Things To Know About Iran
(posted Jan. 26 1:45 AM ET)

1. Israel is not actually worried about being attacked by Iranian nukes. They’re worried about losing influence.

Trita Parsi, Middle East specialist and former advisor to GOP Rep. Bob Ney, recently wrote in Lebanon’s Daily Star:

Israel views the regime in Tehran as rational (but extremist), calculating and risk-averse.

Even those Israeli officials who believe that Iran is hell-bent on destroying the Jewish state recognize that Tehran is unlikely to attack Israel with nuclear weapons due to the destruction Israel would inflict on Iran through its second-strike capability...

...an Iran that does not have nuclear weapons - but that can build them - will significantly damage Israel's ability to deter militant Palestinian and Lebanese organizations.

It will damage the image of Israel as the sole nuclear-armed state in the region and undercut the myth of its invincibility.

Gone would be the days when Israel's military supremacy would enable it to dictate the parameters of peace and pursue unilateral peace plans.

2. In addition to increasing its regional influence, Iran has another "rational" reason why pursuing nukes is in its narrow self-interest: protection from US attack.

Iran is pretty much surrounded by US military bases, and we just knocked off the government next door in Iraq.

Of course, we didn’t attack another member of the Axis of Evil: North Korea.

They already had nukes. Iraq didn’t. Iran can do the math.

3. Even though it is highly doubtful Iran would launch a nuclear war, a nuclear Iran would weaken the United Nations’ ability to block the spread of nuclear weapons.

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Joseph Cirincione told Salon:

The danger is that if Iran is not stopped, the entire nonproliferation regime will be weakened, and with it, the U.N. system ...

...if Iran proceeds with its program, and if the U.N. Security Council does not take action that effectively stops Iran, then regionally, other countries are going to start weighing their nuclear options.

Iran's neighbors are going to have to assume -- no matter what Iran says -- that Iran is pursuing this technology for the purpose of making weapons.

They are going to feel pressure to try and match those programs.

The second thing that happens is that the perception will spread that the treaties and arrangements that we've erected over the last 50 years have failed completely, and the regional crisis in the Gulf will ripple out to the rest of the world.

Other countries that have a technical ability to make nuclear weapons may consider whether they want to do it as well.

4. However, Iran is far away from actually getting a nuke, so there is time for diplomacy to work.

More Cirincione, this from The Nelson Report via The Washington Note:

The country is five to ten years away from the ability to enrich uranium for fuel or bombs.

Even that estimate ... assumes Iran goes full-speed ahead and does not encounter any of the technical problems that typically plague such programs.

In the next few months, they will be lucky to get a test centrifuge cascade up and running. Hardly a “point of no return.”

5. A military strike aimed at taking out Iranian facilities would likely backfire, as a similar one on Iraq backfired in ’81.

Still more Cirincione:

...the strike would not, as is often said, delay the Iranian program. It would almost certainly speed it up.

That is what happened when the Israelis struck at the Iraq program in 1981.

Israel knocked the Osirik reactor, but Saddam went underground, expanding from 500 to 7000 workers on a more ambitious program that escaped detection until 1991.

By then he was closer to producing a bomb than he ever would have been with Osirik. It went from a side project to an obsession.

6. Iran has already shown a willingness to deal. Bush has shown he has no interest.

This is according to a former Bush aide in his National Security Council, Flynt Leverett.

He wrote in the NY Times:

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, Tehran offered to help Washington overthrow the Taliban and establish a new political order in Afghanistan.

But in his 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush announced that Iran was part of an "axis of evil," thereby scuttling any possibility of leveraging tactical cooperation over Afghanistan into a strategic opening.

In the spring of 2003, shortly before I left government, the Iranian Foreign Ministry sent Washington a detailed proposal for comprehensive negotiations to resolve bilateral differences.

The document acknowledged that Iran would have to address concerns about its weapons programs and support for anti-Israeli terrorist organizations.

It was presented as having support from all major players in Iran's power structure, including the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

A conversation I had shortly after leaving the government with a senior conservative Iranian official strongly suggested that this was the case.

Unfortunately, the administration's response was to complain that the Swiss diplomats who passed the document from Tehran to Washington were out of line.

How should all this background help shape a liberal alternative approach to Iran’s nuclear program?

LiberalOasis will address that in a later post, either tomorrow or next week.

January 25, 2006 PERMALINK
The Worst-Case Alito Scenario Looms
(posted Jan. 25 1:15 AM ET)

Senate Dems are perhaps heading into a worst-case scenario with the Alito nomination, at least, worst-case for the party’s reputation.

Achieving 41 “No” votes, yet not filibustering the nomination.

The NY Times reports:

Many Democrats have indicated Judge Alito appeared too well qualified and unthreatening in his confirmation hearings to justify a filibuster...

...Democratic leaders are nonetheless pushing for a lengthy debate over the nomination to make their case against Judge Alito.

And Democratic aides say privately that they also hope to hold off the final vote until Tuesday, when the president's State of the Union speech will overshadow the news.

And CNN’s Ed Henry reported yesterday:

We're expecting maybe one, two, three Democrats, more, at best, for Judge Alito.

And the reason ... is Democratic leaders are pressuring ... their rank and file members very much.

They really want a low number for Judge Alito, to have a stark difference from Chief Justice John Roberts.

And make the charge that this was very much a polarizing nomination, and it is a tainted victory for the White House.

That, of course, makes no sense. There is nothing tainted about winning a clean vote.

The Dem approach has the appearance of going through the motions -- to give the allusion that a fight was waged, that principle was stood upon – in hopes that the base won’t be livid.

But the grassroots should not be soothed by ineffectual “No” votes.

Sure, there are times when a party-line “No” vote serves an important purpose.

It allows the public to see what damage the party in power alone is inflicting, presenting an opportunity to draw favorable distinctions between the parties.

In that case, a “No” vote shows the public where your principles are, letting voters know how they can reverse the present policies in a year or two at the next congressional elections.

But when the particular damage being caused is impossible to quickly rectify – like the gutting of Social Security – you can’t play the game and look principled.

A lifetime appointment that will strengthen the right-wing’s hold on the Supreme Court will cause that kind of long-term damage.

So if 41 or more Dems speechify as to all the damage Alito will wreak, yet choose not to do what they can to stop that damage, they will look like spineless idiots.

To be sympathetic with the Dems’ position, conditions are far from ideal for a filibuster, as grassroots opposition has not crystallized.

This is not because the grassroots loves Alito.

The NYT editorial board accurately summed up America’s reaction as a “shrug.”

And to the extent that he has support, it’s partially based on misinformation. Despite refusing to say Roe was “settled law,” as most Americans believe, a plurality thinks he’ll uphold it.

Is it the Senate Dems’ fault that opposition hasn’t crystallized?

Not completely. Blame should be shared.

The non-profit ad campaign wasn’t big enough to spark extensive media coverage.

And the liberal grassroots was not nearly as focused as our right-wing counterparts.

But as detailed here earlier, Dem Senators made several major mistakes in the months prior to the Alito nomination.

Further, they have failed to make the case against Alito to the public since the hearings.

Almost no Senator is bothering to utter his name, let alone articulate why he is bad for the Court.

Even Harry Reid’s broadside yesterday, which nailed Bush on abuse of power, failed to connect the issue to Alito’s support of presidential abuse of power.

How can opposition crystallize at this late stage without Senators leading the charge?

You could start making that case at the onset of the filibuster. After all, a filibuster is extended debate.

It could be launched initially not to block the nomination, but to engage and rally the public before a final decision is made.

(There’s some talk Dems will do this for a day or two, but just for show, not a sincere attempt to rally the public.)

But that’s a high-wire strategy.

If you can’t move public opinion after several days, and you’re not willing to filibuster without public opinion clearly on your side, it may be awkward backing down.

Dems should have some faith that they could move public opinion.

Polling clearly shows Alito’s numbers would plummet if people thought he’d overturn Roe.

And with polling turning against warrantless wiretapping, more sunlight on Alito’s support of unchecked executive power could also help.

But filibustering a Supreme Court nominee is no small affair; it would require a level of intensity and message discipline that Dems have failed to execute since the Social Security battle.

So Senate Dems are in a tricky spot -- to a large degree, of their own making.

Which is why their game plan appears to be, bury the vote on a heavy news day, instead of figuring out how best to go to the mat.

Bottom line: Senate Dems should not expect the base to be impressed with 41 “No” votes.

Therefore, either try to win for real, or don’t waste everyone’s time with an empty song and dance.

January 23, 2006 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted Jan. 23 1 AM ET)

The Chicago Tribune reported that Sen. Barack Obama was named the “point man to carry the message of ethics reform during the midterm election year.”

This was seen as evidence that the Dems mean business, as Obama is the freshest face, the one that generates the most excitement, the one that routinely scores positive press.

In his role as point man, Obama went to NBC’s Meet The Press to deliver the Dem message.

Except that he didn't deliver a Dem message at all. Here's how it went:

RUSSERT: [Jack] Abramoff and his clients and his associates gave about $3 million to Republicans, about $1.5 million to Democrats. Is this a bipartisan scandal?

OBAMA: Well, I think the problem of money in politics is bipartisan.

I think that all of us who are involved in the political process have to be concerned about the enormous sums of money that have to raised in order to run campaigns, how that money’s raised, and at least the appearance of impropriety and the potential access that’s given to those who are contributing.

...

The specific problem of inviting lobbyists in who have bundled huge sums of money to write legislation, having the oil and gas company companies come in to write energy legislation, having drug companies come in and write the Medicare prescription drug bill — which we now see is not working for our seniors — those are very particular problems of this administration and this Congress.

And I think Jack Abramoff and the K Street Project, that whole thing is a very particular Republican sin.

RUSSERT: No sin for the Democrats?

OBAMA: Well, with respect to how Tom DeLay consolidated power in the House of Representatives, invited lobbyists like Abramoff in to help write legislation, leveraging those lobbyists and telling them that they can only hire Republicans, manipulating the rules of the House and the Senate in order to move forward legislation that was helpful to special interests.

There is a qualitative difference to what’s been happening in Washington over the last several years that has real consequences.

It means a prescription drug bill that doesn’t work for our seniors.

It means an energy policy that does nothing to help relieve high gas prices at the pump.

These aren’t just abstractions, these are problems that have very real consequences to the American people.

And my hope is that, on a bipartisan basis, we can come up with a solution that returns some semblance of responsiveness to Washington.

Buried in all that far-too-Beltway verbiage are some criticisms of Republicans.

But Obama framed the whole spiel by saying the larger problem is “bipartisan,” and that he hoped the solution would be “bipartisan.”

He never made the case for his party.

Never ever said the Democratic Party is the best party to clean up Washington, let alone why.

Never said that the Republican Party is fundamentally incapable of cleaning up Washington, in fact, undercutting any such message by musing about bipartisan solutions.

Yes, he connected the dots as to how corruption hits people in the pocketbook, which is important to get voters motivated.

But if you’re not clearly and forcefully stating that only the Democratic Party can change the system, what are you motivating voters to do?

Compare Obama’s tepid exchange with how DNC Chair Howard Dean handled similar questioning two weeks ago, on CNN’s Late Edition:

WOLF BLITZER: Should Democrats who took money from Jack Abramoff ... give that money to charity or give it back?

DEAN: There are no Democrats who took money from Jack Abramoff, not one, not one single Democrat.

Every person named in this scandal is a Republican. Every person under investigation is a Republican. Every person indicted is a Republican. This is a Republican finance scandal.

There is no evidence that Jack Abramoff ever gave any Democrat any money.

And we've looked through all of those FEC reports to make sure that's true.

BLITZER: But through various Abramoff-related organizations and outfits, a bunch of Democrats did take money that presumably originated with Jack Abramoff.

DEAN: That's not true either. There's no evidence for that either...

BLITZER: What about Senator Byron Dorgan?

DEAN: Senator Byron Dorgan and some others took money from Indian tribes. They're not agents of Jack Abramoff.

There's no evidence that I've seen that Jack Abramoff directed any contributions to Democrats.

I know the Republican National Committee would like to get the Democrats involved in this. They're scared. They should be scared.

They haven't told the truth. They have misled the American people. And now it appears they're stealing from Indian tribes.

The Democrats are not involved in this.

That’s being a party point man.

Obama is by no means alone among congressional Dems in making futile appeals to shun partisanship, while GOPers continue to bludgeon them with partisan attacks.

(See yesterday’s CNN exchange between Sens. Chuck Schumer and George Allen, or Sen. Harry Reid’s lame apology last week retracting a tough press release on ethics.)

But congressional Dems have put a lot of 2006 chips on fixing the "culture of corruption."

And if the strategy hinges on Obama playing point man with kid gloves, it has far less chance of working.

QUICK HITS

George Allen, Liar

Sen. Allen, an ’08 fave within the Beltway GOP Establishment, added to his file of lies yesterday on CNN.

(Past Allen falsehoods and flip-flops here and here.)

First, Allen said of the judiciary:

We see judges who ignore the will of the people in a variety of ways ... you see them striking down parental notification bills, just last week.

Except that last week, the Supreme Court essentially upheld New Hampshire’s parental notification law (the right-wing was pretty happy about it).

But why let facts get in the way of faux outrage?

Second, Allen had this bizarre defense of Bush’s warrantless wiretapping and assertion of unchecked presidential power:

...[The President] does have the authority.,.

An argument can be made that the president by virtue of his office and his role and responsibility is to prevent attacks on the United States...

...This maybe ought to be something that you would ratify -- yes, the president has this authority.

But we had a case just recently, Hamdi v. Rumsfeld which I think was dispositive on the legal justification.

Hamdi, of course, said the exact opposite: “a state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation’s citizens.”

Russert’s Special Question, For Black Guests Only

The Daou Report and firedoglake ask why Tim Russert only calls on Obama and Colin Powell to respond when Harry Belafonte attacks Bush.

The Blog Wire
Tracking the liberal blogosphere

Open Letter To Chris Matthews: "This type of McCarthyite smear has no place in American journalism, let alone on a major TV network. You owe Michael Moore, and the American public you serve as a journalist, an apology."

TomPaine: Richard Clarke on Iran

TPMCafe's Mark Schmitt: "If [the backlash against the Medicare drug bill] merely increases cynicism and deepens the sense that government can"t do anything right, then the ground remains fertile for the Republican anti-government message -- even if it is Republicans themselves who betrayed their own anti-government message. Democrats have a very complicated (but absolutely true) story to tell here ..."

Faithful Progressive: Bush Failure to Capture Bin Laden Ignored by Much of Media

Daou Report, AmericaBlog, MyDD and Crooks and Liars demand Chris Matthews apologize for saying Bin Laden sounds like Michael Moore

Daily Kos' Josh Orton: Insider Trading in Frist and Delay's Office: Story Growing

Brad DeLong on Medicare: "You know, that sounds familiar. The Bush administration is warned that its planning is inadequate but it ignores the advice and plows ahead without listening. Very familiar. It's on the tip of my tongue. Help me out here."

Bradford Plumer: "Would security guarantees and real economic incentives from the United States convince the Iranian government to give up its nuclear program—or, at the very least, outsource its uranium enrichment to Russia? Maybe. Maybe not. What I don't understand is why this isn't worth trying."

The Left Coaster: GOP Lobbying Reform is a Sham

Nathan Newman: "the best way to decrease problems from illegal immigration is to expand the rights of those immigrants."

Blue Oregon: Did John Roberts Mislead Sen. Wyden on Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law?

Needlenose: "Whereas the U.S. has been bogged down in Iraq, Iran has been quietly building ties to its neighbors, especially in commodities that the neighbors need badly, like natural gas, oil, water, and tourism. Absent incontrovertible evidence of Iranian bomb-making activity, the U.N. Security Council is unlikely to go through with sanctions ..."

Seeing The Forest: "If Iran is a threat to world peace, and Bush's credibility is the obstacle to dealing with the threat, Bush should show his sincerity and concern for world peace by stepping aside."

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